Lyme writer’s work published in project to mark WWI centenary

Sophie Olszowski is one of 100 writers invited to write a centena

A LYME Regis writer is among 100 to have their work published as part of a project to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War.

Sophie Olszowski is one of 100 writers invited to write a centena – a 100-word piece of prose – based on the life of real individuals involved in the First World War, as part of the 100 Days project.

Having launched on August 5 in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, a new centena is being published every day on the First World War Centenary Partnership website, until November 12, covering the centenary of the hundreds days offensive.

They will also all be published in a crowdfunded book with the proceeds going to charity.

The centena literary form was specially created for the project by the writers’ collective 26 Characters Ltd, whose members have produced the works. Each runs to exactly 100 words with the opening and closing three words repeated.

The stories cover a diverse collection of individuals from Mahatma Gandhi and Elsie Inglis, founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, to Karl Kraus, a Jewish Austrian satirist and Jeanne De-Neve, a Belgian refugee needle worker.

Sophie (pictured), a doctor with a PhD in neuroscience, has worked as a medical and science writer for more than 20 years for all UK broadsheets and well as specialist journals, and has also won prizes for her creative fiction. She chose to write about conscientious objector Harold Bing in her centena ‘Conscience or Cowardice’.

Commenting on her choice of subject, she said: “I’ve long puzzled over why countries fight: while knowing I would, to defend loved ones, and that violent atrocities must be halted, state-organised murder is troubling.

“I first researched these conflicting sentiments when my partner’s son was fighting in Afghanistan while my work focused on evidence-based medicine. Worried I had missed the point, I would ask military folk (trying not to offend people viewed as heroes) for evidence that war ‘works’. Show me that good outcomes – lives saved or anguish lessened – are better achieved by war than by not fighting?

“I won an award for a short story exploring this where I referred to the journey of Harry Patch. The longest surviving world war one soldier, his retrospective misgivings were at odds with the military pomp surrounding his life and death.

“As I wrote then, ‘Where’s Harry Patch when we need him? Shrunken man so full of memories who told us that war is organised murder yet sat in your medals while we took your photograph and took you as our hero. Why did you let us, when people like you could have made the space between the dust, heat and grit of Helmand and my Ben, and now the last of you is gone?’

“I was interested to explore why ‘conchies’ refused to fight, other than their battles against those who deemed them cowards. Having recently settled in Lyme Regis I wondered whether conscientious objectors had been prominent here, but found little reference other than to them being attacked by women in the street.”

For more details on the 100 Days Project or to read Sophie’s and other centenas already published, visit the website

Woodmead Halls
About Francesca Evans 2537 Articles
Francesca grew up in Lyme Regis and has worked in community journalism in the area since 2011, having gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University.

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